WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama's Democrats will unveil their first budget in four years this week in the US Senate as House Republicans put forward their own blueprint, but the two are unlikely to be reconciled.
Congress, aiming to ultimately craft a broad plan that can help reduce the swollen $16 trillion national debt, appears to be embracing its traditional role of setting forth federal spending requirements.
And Obama, in his apparent eagerness to cut a long-term deal this year, heads to Capitol Hill three days in a row this week to draw lawmakers closer to agreement.
But when the budget chiefs in the House and Senate roll out their plans for fiscal year 2014, the partisan documents will serve to highlight political differences between the two parties over tax and spending policy.
House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan on Tuesday will unveil a blueprint that contains no new tax revenue and demands massive spending cuts, as well as major changes to cherished entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid, in a bid to balance the budget within a decade.
White House spokesman Jay Carney appeared to acknowledge that balancing the budget is out of reach for the foreseeable future.
Asked on Monday how long it would take for such an achievement, he said the goal of the Democratic plan would be to "put our economy on a fiscally sustainable path."
Ryan's ambitious goal of eliminating annual deficits has been made easier by the 10-year, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, known as the sequester, that kicked in this month, as well as the Obama-backed tax increase on wealthy Americans passed at the beginning of the year.
And Ryan, last year's Republican vice presidential nominee, has revived his party's assault on Obama's landmark health care law despite it being upheld last year by the US Supreme Court.
"Our budget does promote repealing 'Obamacare' and replacing it with a better system," Ryan told Fox News on Sunday.
He also appeared to set up a potential clash within his own party, when he said he wants to halt Obama's planned expansion of Medicaid, the health safety net for the poor and disabled, even as some Republican governors have come on board with the program.
Democratic Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray, meanwhile, lays out her blueprint on Wednesday, proposing less severe domestic cuts and closing tax loopholes that favor the wealthy.
Chris Van Hollen, the House Budget Committee's top Democrat, slammed Ryan's budget as catering to the rich at the expense of seniors who could be hit with higher costs if entitlement changes take effect.
"The big difference is, Republicans continue to take the position that they won't close one special interest tax break, not one, for the purpose of reducing the deficit," Van Hollen told MSNBC.
Lawmakers have been embroiled in a fiscal battle since December, when Congress relented to Obama's wishes and raised taxes on the wealthy.
But they failed to negotiate a solution on the sequester, including some $85 billion in spending cuts due in 2013. The House and Senate are negotiating a stop-gap government funding measure, and pressure to avoid a shutdown and find alternatives to the arbitrary spending cuts may overshadow debate over the 10-year budget resolutions.
Obama, who said at the weekend he believes "compromise is possible," will take his case directly to Capitol when he sits down with Senate Democrats on Tuesday and Senate Republicans a day later. On Thursday he meets separately with Democrats and Republicans in the House.AFP